Friday, August 5, 2011

A Coletrane Interlude

Driving home last night, I accidentally tuned into a KIOS rebroadcast of NPR's Jazz Profiles John Coletrane: Saxophone Icon.

For much of 1996, I was obsessed with the tonal changes in Trane's version of "My Favorite Things." The bridge to his second solo, when the soprano notes accelerate and modulate into his highest register, always inspired an exultation akin to religious ecstasy. So much newly emergent life blazes from that tune. Trane had kicked heroin and alcohol, recorded his great Giant Steps, and started the spiritual path that would lead to sainthood. All of his newly emancipated genius seem to cascade forth in nascent sheets of sound.

I was 25 when I first delved in to Trane. He was my first non pop/punk/alternative musical obsession, and he's stayed with me as an inspiration and confidant ever since. Every few years, I have to play all of his records back to back. It's always a revelatory process: intimately familiar tunes reveal an undiscovered secret. They're organic things with agency: they have a will of their own. They talk with me, and they always respond to whatever I need when I approach them. 

'Trane's solo catalog isn't that extensive. There are numerous live recordings, guest sides, and assorted rarities I haven't heard, but I own most of his great studio work. Today, I can't seem to stop listening to "After the Rain," a 1963 cut from his Dear Old Stockholm, a relatively minor release on Impulse! It's bop-influenced solo is infusing me with energy and helping me write. It's also conjuring images of absent friends, flickering around the edges of my awareness.

I'm sure that I'll move onto A Love Supreme this afternoon, because its mantra-like dirge quality helps me focus and stay on task through some very challenging writing I have to do.

I'll most likely end the day with My Favorite Things. How's that for irony? I'm racing to finish my chapter, propelled along by the first tunes on sides 1 and 2 of the record: the title track, and an equally exultant "Summertime." These are twin yawps of glee, but the two other tracks are improvisations on well-known jazz standards of regret: "Every Time We Say Goodbye" and "But Not For Me." Coltrane is the most lyrically aware jazz player I've heard, and his chord changes evoke a sense of loss just as effectively as the missing words themselves.

See 8:40 for an escalation into the noumenal.

1 comment:

  1. At the 8:57 mark Radar woke up from a sound sleep, trotted across the room and put his nose on the laptop. Dog knows a good horn when he hears it.